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New York County Asks ISPs for Rural Internet Expansion Plans

Onondaga County, N.Y., will issue a request for proposals asking Internet service providers how they plan to connect 1,500 rural residents with broadband service. The effort has a budget of $15 million.

(TNS) — Onondaga County will issue a request for proposals Friday asking Internet providers for ideas on how to spend $15 million extending broadband service to more than 1,500 rural customers who don’t have it.

The county legislature on Wednesday unanimously approved spending the money, which will come out of $89 million the county received from the 2021 federal stimulus program.

The county is asking for open-ended proposals from companies on how best to reach and serve farflung customers with high-speed Internet, County Executive Ryan McMahon said. The only specific requirement is that proposals include an offering for low-income households.

McMahon first proposed the rural broadband program more than a year ago. Working with Rochester-based consultant ECC Technologies and the Central New York Regional Planning and Development Board, county officials since then have identified 193 miles of road and at least 1,471 households and businesses that do not have broadband available. Many are in rural areas where houses are far apart.

“The marketplace has strategically said to these communities, ‘We’re not going to invest because it doesn’t make sense,’ ‘’ McMahon said. “We believe, with what we’re about to propose, that this will incentivize the marketplace to compete to get this business.”

Proposals will be due in 60 days, McMahon said.

Legislator David Knapp, R- Lafayette, said broadband service is critical for students and work-at-home adults, among others. Many of the underserved areas are in his district at the southern edge of the county.

“This is very good news,’’ Knapp said of the initiative.

The county’s initiative focuses on areas outside of Syracuse, McMahon said. Separately, Mayor Ben Walsh has proposed using $5 million of the city’s stimulus money to expand broadband access in parts of Syracuse.

The regional planning board conducted an extensive survey last year to identify Central New York areas with inadequate broadband service. The survey identified nearly 1,500 locations in rural Onondaga County in need of service. Since then, town supervisors have identified a few more areas to boost the number above 1,500, Knapp said.

McMahon estimated that about 6,000 individuals at those locations would benefit from the broadband program.

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